Fuertes, Louis Agassiz, 1874-1927

Birth 1874-02-07
Death 1927-08-22

Biographical notes:

Artist, naturalist.

From the description of Louis Agassiz Fuertes exhibit items, 1982-1983. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 74897982

From the description of Louis Agassiz Fuertes pencil drawing, [ca.1900]. (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 77010685

Louis Agassiz Fuertes was an ornithologist and a painter of birds. He was a resident lecturer at Cornell University for several years.

From the description of Louis Agassiz Fuertes papers, 1892-1954, 1892-1927 (bulk). (Cornell University Library). WorldCat record id: 64071663

FUERTES, LOUIS AGASSIZ (Feb. 7, 1874-Aug. 22, 1927), artist-naturalist, was born at Ithaca, N.Y. His father, Estevan Antonio Fuertes, was a descendant of a prominent Spanish family. His mother, Mary Stone Perry Fuertes, of Dutch and English ancestry, was born in Troy, N.Y. His talent in drawing and his love of birds began to show at an early age and developed without particular encouragement from parents or friends. By the time he was eight or nine years old he had definitely focused his attention upon painting birds, and when he was fourteen, according to an autobiographical sketch, his career was definitely settled. He received his education in the public schools of Ithaca, N.Y., then in 1892 accompanied his parents to Europe and spent the year in a preparatory school in Zurich, Switzerland. On his return he entered Cornell University and was graduated with the class of 1897. In 1894, while on a glee club trip to Washington, D.C., he met Elliott Coues and showed him some of his paintings. The encouragement which he received from the ornithologist was apparently a deciding factor in his career. Following his graduation from Cornell he spent a year studying with Abbott H. Thayer, which improved his technique very materially, and with him and his son, Gerald Thayer, he went to Florida in the spring of 1898 . This was the first of a series of expeditions which widened his knowledge of the birds of North America. In 1899 he went to Alaska with the famed Harriman expedition, and two years later be visited western Texas and New Mexico with a party from the United States Biological Survey. With Dr. F.M. Chapman, curator of birds at the American Museum in New York City, between 1902 and 1913 he visited the Bahamas, the Pacific Coast, the prairies of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Rockies, the Cuthbert Rookery in Florida, Yucatan and eastern Mexico, and Colombia, South America. In addition to these expeditions Fuertes visited Jamaica on his wedding journey in 1904; the Magdalen Islands and Bird Rock in 1909 with Leonard Cutler Sanford; and after a dozen years spent mostly in his studio at Ithaca, in 1926-27 he made an expedition to little-known parts of Abyssinia with Dr. Wilfred H. Osgood for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. From 1923 to 1927 he was lecturer in ornithology at Cornell University.

Fuertes was a tireless worker in the field and never lost an opportunity to add to his collection of birds or sketches. At the time of his death he left a collection of some 3,500 beautifully prepared bird skins and over a thousand field and studio sketches of more than 400 different kinds of birds. His greatest collection, however, was the series of mental images of each bird which seemed to be indelibly impressed upon his mind with all the accuracy of a photographic plate. When examining a bird, his concentration was supreme; he was oblivious to everything about him; and during these moments, apparently, details of pose and expression were so fixed in his mind that years afterwards he could reproduce them with his pencil and brush without the slightest hesitation. His paintings, which illustrate most of the leading bird books published between 1896 and 1927, are characterized by a beauty of draftsmanship and a devotion to truth which are manifested not only in the accuracy of every detail of plumage and form, but in the perfection attained in reproducing the characteristic attitudes and expressions of each species. On June 2, 1904, Fuertes was married to Margaret F. Sumner of Ithaca, by whom he had two children. He was killed in a grade-crossing accident in 1927.

[Biographical Note written by Arthur A. Allen and taken from The Dictionary of American Biography, vol. VII (Charles Scribner's Sons: New York, 1931), p.53.]

From the guide to the Louis Agassiz Fuertes papers, 1892-1954, 1892-1927 (bulk), (Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library)


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  • Ornithology--Study and teaching
  • Ornithologists
  • Ornithology
  • Bookplates--Collectors and collecting
  • Birds
  • Birds in art
  • Mammals
  • Natural history
  • Artists


  • Ornithologists
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